The last female miner of Sulcis
Federica Araco - 17/11/2016
“Breathe, breathe slowly. Your eyes will soon get used to the dark. Do not be afraid, this is our world. It’s your home.”
The old freight elevator, an old but still functioning relic from the ‘30s, creaks and rocks in the void. The pulley starts moving and a sinister noise accompanies the slow descent to the bowels of the earth. Five hundred meters in seven minutes.
It takes a while for the sight to orientate when the last glimmer of light is swallowed by darkness. Then slowly, first forms become distinguishable: long tunnels dug into the rock, tangles of cables, pipes for ventilation, pulleys, compressed air pumps and huge machines that flaunt their sharp and scary teeth like mechanical monsters. Everything is wrapped in a very dark powder and a surreal silence, with the exception of “hell”, the place the coal is taken. There is highly flammable material everywhere. In the belly of the mountain it is not allowed to smoke or bring items except those foreseen for the authorized uniform: a helmet with the front light, heavy boots and overalls.
Sitting between saints’ pictures and votive objects, a man reels off the beads of a rosary praying Our Father. His big hands bearing the signs of time and fatigue seem unsuited to such a delicate gesture. Gradually, other voices join his novena. The voices of the 150 miners from the last mining quarry of the mining area in Sulcis Iglesiente, the poorest area of Sardinia and the country. Patrizia is one of them. Her muscles are softened by her generous curves and the relaxation typical for those over 50. She is in charge of detecting odorless gas and knows every corner of this huge underground city, of which she is the undisputed queen. Grandchild, daughter, sister and aunt of miners, she is the only woman in the family to have chosen this difficult job, and perhaps the only one in Italy. A centuries old job that is both pride and curse at the same time. A job that creates a visceral attachment to a dark place that, although unhealthy and dangerous, is considered “home” by everyone here.
Squeezed between the rocks, squashed under the dust and silence, these heroes of darkness communicate with deceased loved ones, with memories and sudden gleams of light. Many have lost relatives in those same tunnels where, as adults, they too have chosen to work.
“The mine is an incredible and unknown place. I wanted to tell the life that teems there” explains the director Valentina Pedicini, who screened her documentary at an event of “I Racconti del Lavoro Invisibile” (Tales of Invisibile Labor) at the Casa Internazionale delle Donne (International Women’s House) in Rome. “I came back changed after six months of filming amd about two years in the Nuraxi Figus quarry, in the center of of Sulcis. It was the last mine to remain active, despite continuous threats of closure because it is considered an economic loss. It is now abandoned, but a group of miners have to continue to monitor it because there is a risk of explosion until it is permanently flooded.”
When this subterranean reality that has been the scene to almost two centuries of stories, struggles, fears and hopes will disappear forever beneath the waves, these images will be the last testimony.
An intense and essential work, stemmed from the encounter between two female eyes that have decided to reveal, together, this mysterious interregnum in the bowels of the earth where people live in invisibility, suspended between life and death.
“Patrizia was everything I was looking for, encased in two blue eyes and in a personal and familial story that can become a model of the feminine mining history”, the author writes in the director's notes. “Going down to the mine with her, even just once, has determined the style of the film. A film set underground, in the dark, where the hostile nature has forced the actors and crew to new employmental and physical, [...] expressive and cinematic adaptation forms.”
Inverting the perspective, Dal Profondo presents some sort of an other way around narration of the myth of Paltonic cave. With slow, dark framings, rarefied and essential dialogues it depicts the “underworld” with such symbolic and emotional density that makes the reality on the surface appear uninteresting, artificial and superfluous.
“The mine is addictive”, admits the director. “After 26 uniterrupted days spent inside the mine to shoot, with shifts reaching even 14-18 hours, it was not easy to get re-accustomed to the outside world. It is a strange phenomenon. Down there everything is lacking: the air, the light, the space. And yet you feel you need nothing.”
Translated from Italian by Övgü Pınar